Fantastic Fest 2011 Review: The Devil’s Business
by Britt Hayes
Sean Hogan returns to Austin just six months after the premiere of Little Deaths at SXSW to present his latest effort, The Devil’s Business. The story of two hit men sent to take out a man who has slighted their mob boss, The Devil’s Business is an intimate and engaging film that feels like a stage play.
The focus of the film is the dialogue between Pinner (Billy Clarke) and Cully (Jack Gordon), as the former relays stories about their mysterious boss to the latter. Between these beautifully delivered monologues on the trophy lover of their boss and her mysterious fate, the pair begin to unravel a dark, menacing secret about their human target. As Pinner indulges in the release of his long kept secrets, we see a man battling with his morality and position while simultaneously confronting his target in a way that parallels his own personal confrontation.
The Devil’s Business succeeds in giving its audience hugely sympathetic characters — shady as their business may be — who are largely compelling and often witty. The dialogue is truly the heart of the film, with the banter between Pinner and Cully volleying back and forth gracefully.
All of this carefully divulged exposition leads up to an artfully paced and directed third act, containing moments that are arresting and bizarre, involving elements both cultish, and, of course, devilish. There’s almost a wry undertone to the whole thing, owing chiefly to the target in question, Kist (Jonathan Hansler), a man incredibly cavalier about his secrets.
Though dense in dialogue, the film is surprisingly sparse, with more subtle action and progression.
The final scenes are nothing short of ballsy, as Hogan chooses to take the film down a path that evokes that of an old horror short story or Twilight Zone episode, with effects that call to mind the bravado of 80s horror.
Hogan’s direction and editing are memorable, and echoes the visual proclivities of Argento — all blue tones and strange angles and close-ups. The ending may divide many, as, again, it’s delightfully strange. Some directors only ever teeter on the precipice of taking interesting risks (see Kevin Smith’s abominable Red State for the perfect example of someone who can’t pull the trigger on a big idea), but The Devil’s Business features a risky climax that, while not executed perfectly is still most impressive. I would personally much rather have a director who chooses to take big risks but doesn’t always stick the landing gracefully than one who never takes a risk at all. You have to admire and applaud Hogan for his commitment to telling this story his way.